How this little town became Sorsogon’s tourism goldmine
However, there’s always a price to pay
Nov 8, 2017
A region painted red with a history of insurgency, Bicol still gives off a mystique that strikes wonder among non-locals for its natural landscape. The region alone fronts a dozen mountains and is host to a seemingly endless Pacific coastline. While Camarines Sur has made a name with its wake park, Donsol with its whale sharks, and Albay with the Mayon Volcano, tread deeper south and you’ll find Gubat, Sorsogon.
A raw and unadulterated area with vast coves and turquoise waters, Gubat has become a surfer’s dream. Rolling waves on a sandy beach bottom invite visitors from all around, with many willing to brave a 12-hour drive from Manila. And it’s surfing that’s giving a little municipality like Gubat their much-needed tourism kickstart.
Rural poor in fishing villages along the coast now earn extra income from the influx of tourists. Homestays are built per family and the community established the Buenavista Surf Camp on public property. As the kids excelled in surfing, mothers trained as masseurs, and their fathers made extra working as tanods during events. Money goes directly to the families without the need for a middleman or the stringent system of a privatized resort.
We spoke to Bidge Villaroya who helped the local surfers form the Gubat Sorsogon Surfriders Association in response to the need to organize themselves and partner with the government through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the LGU.
Almost a decade ago, Bidge left his job in Manila and returned to his roots in Gubat. To feed his need for stoke, he frequented the wake park in CamSur but didn’t want to pay the P170 hourly fee. “There has to be something better in Gubat,” he says. Skimboarding one day, his nephew paddled out with the board and caught a wave. Then it hit him. So he hopped on a bus, bought a surfboard, and tried it out.
To summarize, he was deemed crazy by the fisherfolk, explained to the local government unit what surfing is, and they let him go ahead and surf those waves. That’s without him going through some bumps along the way. Because he kept on slipping off his board, he realized he lacked a key component in his surfing arsenal: wax. So, Bidge ventured back to Manila to buy wax to keep him from slipping off, then back home, lent his board to the local kids to play with, and soon, everyone was getting into it. At the present, Gubat’s local government provides the community with boards in full support of surfing as a sport and a tourist attraction.
Local kids like prodigy Vea Estrellado have been winning contests all around the country, beating more experienced surfers and giving more attention to their hometown. Last Oct. 20-22, the Gubat surfing community celebrated their third Lunad sa Balod, a national surfing competition that brought in competitors from Pagudpud to Lanuza as well as a music festival that turned into a dance hall on the beach.
It’s events like these that make the local government realize the value of keeping the area pristine. Their coastline, after all, has become a goldmine for tourism. The locals are doing their part: Daily beach clean-ups and environmental education help foster the next generation of surfers.
Despite how far Gubat has come a long way from its simple roots to a possible hub for eco-tourism, Bidge tells us that he’s wary of the future of Philippine surfing. It may not be true for all, but it is a sad reality that’s already happening in more established surf spots around the country. As surfing grows, those with money could disrespect and disregard the locals. Expect a massive buying of beachfront properties, privatization of public spaces, and the displacement of locals. But there is always hope. Prioritize the locals and strengthen the community. “There’s always a better way of doing things. There’s always that gray area,” Bidge concludes.
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